McHugh-Dailey Building

The McHugh-Dailey Building houses one of the few — if not the only — historic opera house in the United States and is still owned by the same family.

In 1907, the three-story red brick building at 220 S. First St. was constructed as a mercantile emporium, residence and community opera house.

The opera house staged live performances and gatherings until the fire marshal closed it to the public in 1970, saying it must have two entrances for public safety.

When the building originally opened, opera houses were located in many American cities to stage lecturers and traveling entertainment troupes of many kinds.

The McHugh-Dailey Emporium retail store occupied the first floor and residences for the two families were located on the second floor.

The 2,000 square-foot clear-span, third-floor space, complete with stage and original tin ceilings and wood floors, has been completely restored and is available for performances or banquets.

Across the country, more than a dozen formerly abandoned opera houses, many similar to the one in Pacific, are under some level of restoration.

In Detroit, Lead, S.D., Delphi, Ind., Ellendale, N.D., and Croswell, Ohio, groups of history lovers are raising funds to bring new life to the buildings that once brought lecturers, vaudeville acts, minstrel shows and other traveling theater to their remote areas.

Restoration costs run in the millions of dollars, which can take years to raise with local fund-raisers, endowments and grants.

There is no cost estimate of the restoration of the Pacific Opera House since current owners Jim and Bill McHugh and Tom and Mike Dailey completed much of the work with their own hands.

When the third floor was closed in the 1970s it put an end to 60 years of entertainment for the community. People would come from miles around to hear speeches, enjoy theater productions and stage plays.

The cavernous room also housed the city board meetings and high school graduations.

An elevator was installed in 2012. A second entrance constructed behind the stage and the wide Orleans Street entry staircase was adorned with large mirrors to create the grandeur of the entrance during the heyday of the opera house. Framed portraits of the building founders and their spouses hang on the wall of the third floor landing.

Family members scraped and repainted the tin ceilings, which were purchased among 11 train carloads of tin, mahogany rails, wood floors and chandeliers purchased from the demolition of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

The banisters leading up the wide Orleans Street entrance were stripped and stained. The white pine Opera House floor, still in solid condition, was stripped and waxed. No stain was added.

The original stage curtain that advertised local businesses hangs on the back wall of the stage.

One area that has not been touched is the graffiti-laden dressing room wall where locals wrote their names and the years of their visits. The Pacific High School entire classes of 1912, 1913, 1916, 1918 and 1933 wrote their names on the wall. Joe Brandt drew a bold circle around his name with the note that he graduated in 1934.

Participants in the 1972 Pacific Repertory Theater, the last troupe to occupy the Opera House space, wrote their names in bold black markers near the 12-foot ceiling.

During the lifetime of the building, founders James J. Dailey and Lawrence McHugh, the partners, (combined) 11 children were allowed to roller skate on the third floor. Their fee for this privilege was to put all the chairs back in place for the next performance and carry buckets of coal or wood for the two large cast-iron stoves that heated the huge space.

When it was no longer used for entertainment, artist Joseph McHugh, son of the founder, used the large space as a sculpture and painting studio.

A replica of the large painting of all the presidents that hangs in the Jefferson County and Franklin County courthouses hangs in the building.

His bust of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln also are there. His bust of Harry Truman is displayed in the entrance hallway of Truman Elementary School.

The opera house is enjoying a new life as a conference and banquet facility.